Dimension 1: The Core Ideas


To avoid targeting conceptual knowledge that is too superficial and tells us little about student learning in our assessments, we have selected a set of foundational core ideas that allow us to explore the sophistication of students’ conceptual knowledge and scientific reasoning. One rationale for organizing content around core ideas comes from research that compares the knowledge and problem solving abilities of experts and novices in certain fields. This research shows that experts tend to use core principles from their discipline to make sense of new information or tackle novel problems,while novices tend to hold isolated and even contradictory pieces of knowledge that are not organized around core principles of the discipline (Bransford, Brown, & Cocking, 2000). Therefore, to help students shift from novice to expert status, it is essential to help students learn these core ideas by engaging them in the practices of science. The importance of focusing on core ideas has been a focus of current reform efforts in science education, and consequently new frameworks for standards have developed with this focus – such as NRC’s report, A Framework for K-12 Science Education (2012) and the NGSS (NGSS Lead States, 2013).

Here we identify the candidate core ideas that we will target in CBAL science over the next few years. These core ideas can be categorized into three broad disciplines covered in the K-12 standards as described in current reform documents (e.g., National Assessment Governing Board [NAGB], 2009; NRC, 2011):
  • Physical science
  • Life science
  • Earth and space science

The developments of these concepts are interrelated because models for physical science are often required in both the life and earth sciences; however, the application of physical science principles and concepts in the life and earth sciences supports the further development and refinement of the physical science concepts.

In physical science, we plan to target two foundational core ideas: matter and energy.

In life science, we plan to target two core ideas: ecosystems and structures and processes.

In earth and space science, we plan to target two core ideas: earth systems (water) and earth systems (earth materials).

Note that each of these core ideas includes subcomponent big ideas (e.g., for matter there are two big ideas:(a) properties and structure of matter, and (b) changes in matter). The reasons for selecting this limited set of core ideas to target in CBAL over the near term is that there are clear and visible connections among these different core ideas that students should be developing and that should be apparent to teachers.

See Figure 2 for a summary graphic. Again, the development of these science core ideas is predicted to be interrelated among the different core ideas.
core ideas new.JPG
Figure 2. Target core ideas in CBAL science.
Note: The red highlighted box indicates the core idea for which we are currently developing prototype tasks.

In terms of the assessment prototype development, we are starting with one core idea in physical science, matter. It is particularly important to start with the core idea of matter, because it is one of the most foundational and generative ideas in all of science, in particular the atomic-molecular theory of matter. In support of this point, we note that, according to Nobel laureate physicist, Richard Feynman, if all the world’s scientific knowledge were destroyed and he could only salvage one idea to pass on to future generations, he would keep the atomic-molecular theory (Smith, Wiser, Anderson, & Krajcik, 2006).
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